Whatever is usually cheap to report is what is hyped the most, so weather and celebrities are pretty high on the hoopla list. Covering corruption is expensive because corrupters hide their handiwork. The economics of the news media are not unlike the economics of the insurance or health care industries "maximum profit for shareholders. That means shortchanging everybody else, patients, clients, viewers and readers. It means finding ways not to deliver what you promised to deliver.

weather forecast

Where there is hype you can be pretty sure there is con.

For example, we recently got almost 24-hour coverage of the Winter Olympics while we got almost no coverage of the ice storm that left thousands of Cheyenne Sioux freezing without power or water or heat "except for Keith Olbermann. A brief mention on his Countdown show raised $250,000 in 48 hours. Ironically, the plight of the Sioux was, among other things, a weather story. The Olympics, of course, are big business, lots of endorsements, a huge advertising vehicle. But the fact that American citizens were freezing had no commercial value. The media preferred obsessing about the lack of snow in Vancouver to the dire condition of the Sioux, the Sioux "who after all, had no advertising money to spend.

Think about this the next time Big Media talk about responsible journalism. Their only responsibility here was to advertisers. It certainly wasn`t to report human misery while the rest of us sat in our warm homes and watched winter sports. And yet this was the behavior of media obsessed with hyping weather and trivia simply because it costs so much less to report than the news we really need.

There were no advertisers to pay for coverage of Sioux misery, but there are plenty of advertisers to support coverage of something we can`t do much about " blizzards, floods, abnormal tides and like phenomena. It`s always hard to find advertisers to support controversial coverage, but it`s easy to find support for trivia and propaganda. For this reason we cannot say we have a free press. We may not have government censors, but we do have commercial censors. The market is inherently censorial.

The media are kidding us about this, but we don`t have to kid ourselves. We don`t get all the news, we get the news advertisers will support, and we get less and less of that between shareholder demand and debt retirement.

Conservatives are mightily worried about our national debt. All of us should worrry much more about a republic whose citizens are getting more and more cheap trivia instead of the news they need to make intelligent decisions. If lies and half-truths sink health care reform, it will be because the consequences of our current health care system have not gotten across to the people, just as the consequences of going into Iraq got to the people too late. Many liberals would have you believe reform is in trouble because the White House failed to script a compelling narrative (the current buzz term for conning the people), while conservatives would have us believe the people got wise to a government takeover of a sixth of our economy. Both views are defective. It`s the media`s job to tell the story in the first instance, and in the second instance the claim is simply bull.

So we get all the hot news about weather, celebrity inconsequence and winter sports, but we don`t get comprehensive and consistent coverage of the issues that will decide whether we will be a great civilization in the 21st Century or a failed experiment. This is a crisis every bit as important as debt and health care and jobs, because it affects them all and much more.

Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.

His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.

He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.

Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latté`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com